Quirky actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. ("Living with Ed") was riding his bike to the Vanity Fair Oscar party long before green was cool. In Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life Begley outlines his frugal but fun earth-hugging approach to living "simply so others could simply live." Just six compact sections – home, transportation, recycling, energy, garden and kitchen, and personal care – contain his simple to saintly changes for carbon-happy neophytes, from vegan shoes, solar cooking and recycled countertops, to solar heaters, electric bikes and "Ed's Transportation Hierachy." Each section features cost comparisons and amusing "real life" commentary by his Pilates-toned wife Rachelle. A guy with a wind turbine mounted on his roof has his share of granola-head friends, and sidebars about their innovative green products prove fascinating, if not consummate salesmanship to a captive audience. Sure, earnest Ed racks up a few carbon miles on studious arguments like what constitutes a true zero-emission vehicle, but he's so self-effacing and down-to-earth on a topic dominated by self-righteousness that it's hard to resent his halo.
Doug Fine (Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man) may have been "raised on Gilligan and Quarter Pounders" but he demonstrates amazing resourcefulness trading his comfortable Thai-takeout-and-Netflix lifestyle to become an off-the-grid ranching goatherd in Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living. Fine traveled from Burma to Tajikistan as an environmental writer and NPR correspondent, but finally settled down after buying the Funky Butte Ranch in southern New Mexico. He decides to eat locally, use less oil and power his life with renewable energy, but the following months test Fine's humorous resolve to "prove that green Digital Age living was possible." He survives drought, biblical floods and crackpot UN-hating neighbors as he gradually becomes "solarized" and converts a gas-guzzling monster truck into a vehicle that belches the disconcerting aroma of Kung Pao chicken. Along the way, readers will root for this dry sharp wit and his rosy green dream. Will his tiny "herd" of two rambunctious goats purchased on Craigslist turn Fine into the Mimbres Valley's ice cream man? Will this new singleton finally find love and satisfaction while raising organic rainbow chard and reducing his carbon footprint? Fine's funny struggle to become a better world citizen will entertain both the eco-aware, and those who doze peacefully in their home's formaldehyde fumes.
Green is the new black
Hemp shoes and a hair shirt? Mais non, says Christie Matheson in Green Chic: Saving the Earth in Style. Rejecting a recycled tire home for the pashmina mantle of ultra-hip BFF of Mother Earth, Matheson's recommendations for the elegant yet earth-friendly good life include beeswax candles, linen napkins, a cashmere sweater, lobster on the Maine coast and sleeping on organic cotton sheets at boutique hotels plus other wine and food, beauty, fashion, travel and party ideas. While the slightly snobby tone ("I don't mean tacky spider plants but nice ones. . . only drink coffee that is shade-grown, Fair Trade certified and organic. . .") targets the young and beautiful crowd too sexy to muss their fingernails planting trees, the book is useful for anyone scared to give up their luxuries while saving the planet.
Here's what you do
Lithe goddess Renee Loux (Living Cuisine, "It's Easy Being Green") radiates "personal and planetary health" in Easy Green Living: The Ultimate Guide to Simple, Eco-Friendly Choices for You and Your Home. Elevating the green conversation with serious science, Loux uncovers eco-disasters lurking throughout the home, from nonstick cookware and aluminum baking sheets to foam pillows, paint, dandruff shampoos and plastic sippy cups. Her illustrated tome features plenty of footnotes and charts about hazardous chemicals to bolster the argument but also provides hundreds of nontoxic, earth-friendly options for every room of the house, plus "Green Thumb Guides" to buying healthful cleaning, personal products and cosmetics, as well as recipes for homemade biodegradable cleaning solutions. Certain tips (baking soda not bleach cleanser, vinegar for dirty kettles) are common as mud, but other facts (bleached filters give coffee lovers a mouthful of dioxins with their daily java) make readers grateful Loux became a green detective.
Make a few simple changes without moving next door to Al Gore with "lists" for green living such as 365 Ways to Live Green: Your Everyday Guide to Saving theEnvironment. This small guide covers day-to-day ideas that make a difference while one is eating meals, maintaining home and garden, raising kids and pets, traveling to work or celebrating.
Organizations are resource guzzlers, so the illustrated True Green @ Work: 100 Ways You Can Make the Environment Your Business is a DIY manual for workers wanting to reduce their company's carbon footprint. The brief guide suggests simple tips (refillable pens and washable mugs) and more complicated and worthy efforts (industry advocacy and telecommuting) along with a smidgen of the truly nutty, like cultivating a worm farm on the break room countertop and requesting that a high-rise office building turn off the lights when the last worker leaves.
Planet in peril
Right now, half of the world's population is thirsty because they can't find clean water to drink. Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World is the latest large-scale project by former Time and National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt (Day in the Life, America 24/7). The "carbon neutral" oversized coffee-table book (with a foreword by Robert Redford) documents Blue Planet Run, a nonstop, around-the-world relay race held in 2007 to bring attention to the global water crisis (all book royalties will fund safe drinking water projects). It's also a thought-provoking visual tour of these global water issues by the world's top photojournalists, from the immense social impact of China's Three Gorges Dam to residents of a New Delhi slum fighting over the hose from a government water tanker truck and portraits of land purchased by oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens so the water underneath it could be sold to gasping Texas towns.
Entrepreneurial spirit and free-market forces are the answer to problems plaguing the planet, according to Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming. Aiming to "harness the great forces of capitalism to save the world from catastrophe," Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and writer Miriam Horn profile green energy innovators and investors in the "world's biggest business." They include Soviet ∧#233;migr∧#233; Alla Weinstein, who worked with the Makah tribe of the Pacific Northwest to harness ocean power, and Herculano Porto who helped halt the dangerous charge on the "Amazonian frontier" by changing the way people could profit from clearing rain forests. Reading like the best creative nonfiction, Earth: The Sequel makes a fascinating case for this "emerging new energy economy."